Sunday, September 20, 2009

Take a Stand to Avoid Regret

High school sororities and fraternities were banned by the time I reached 10th grade. Not surprisingly, students found their way around the ban by making Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y, young "Christian" groups affiliated with the YMCA, the equivalent for juniors and seniors.

I didn't quite make the cut into the "sorority" my junior year as did some of my friends, but I was thrilled to be chosen the summer before my senior year. That is -- until I realized that my best friend wasn't among the chosen ones. She was a Catholic.  At the time, Catholics were not included at least in my high school Tri-Hi-Y.

I'm sure blacks were banned  as well, but at the time black and white teenagers generally stayed in their own cliques so I had no way of knowing how exclusion impacted African-American classmates.  The West Virginia side of my family would not have approved of black friends, although my Mississippi father constantly emphasized that "black people are just as good as white people." At that time, even good WASPs (white anglo-saxton protestants) still bought into separate as equal.

However, I did realize my Italian Catholic friend felt left out and hurt. Her exclusion from the group was my first lesson that separate does not in anyway feel equal. She told me it was OK to continue with Tri-Hi-Y. I wrestled with the idea of resigning at first, but as an egocentric adolescent I eventually decided to remain in the organization because membership meant that for once I was "popular," the dream of most teenage girls. I failed to listen to that still, small voice within. Years later, I regret that I didn't stand up for my friend on the basis of a rationalization that is absolutely meaningless today.

I've come to realize that most often we humans don't regret what we do. We regret what we don't do. My fear is that we will live to see the day that the insured will regret not taking a stand on healthcare reform for the uninsured and underinsured. West Virginia lawmakers may one day regret that they chose to support temporary jobs and ignore property and human costs in Southern and Central West Virginia by permitting mountaintop removal -- not to mention that all state residents may regret failing to protect the Earth that God has entrusted to us. I also fear that we will regret not calling out behavior that feeds hate and threats of violence against our president or any other human beings.

My guess is that taking a stand is exactly what Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter were trying to do when they urged recognition of attitudes and behaviors that whip up baser instincts of humankind to demonize those who think differently from others. It didn't take long for the very commentators and media, who pander to right-wing extremists, to go on the attack.  Even President Obama played down racism as the overriding cause of opposition to healthcare reform. He wants to focus on the issue at hand and not get off on tangents that will distract people who do disagree with his policies for reasons other than bigotry. He wants to negotiate with his opponents.

Yet I can't stop thinking about the era in the 1960s when Catholics  -- not to mention black people wanting equal rights -- were demonized. The political environment has the same feel these days. People were angry. People were scared. And people at both ends of the political spectrum -- left and right -- were worked up into a frenzy of hate against those who were different or who believed differently. There were fewer moderates and more folks with the attitude of "which side are you on?" Middle ground? What is that?

How much did that frenzy contribute to leftist-leaning Lee Harvey Oswald assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963? How much did hate contribute to the assassinations of  Israel-supporter and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 -- the same year, I might add, that I threw my Catholic friend under the bus? The atmosphere of hate was palpable during that era. The fear-mongering of that day also was based mostly on lies about the dangers of the opposition.

So how do Christians decipher the proper attitude toward those who are different and when do they take a stand? We have no further to look than The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus reminds us not only that we need to love one another as ourselves but that we should recognize that others who are different from us also are good and decent human beings. A more recent philosopher, German pastor Martin Niemoller, had wise words that should encourage those even slightly left or right of center to take pause. He expressed regret at not trying to thwart the atmosphere that led to the Holocaust.  He recognized  too late that any actions threatening one group may eventually lead to all of us becoming victims, as was the case in World War II. Throughout history, death -- from assassination, war, or the razing of the Earth -- has been the ultimate progression of hate and often greed.

Whether or not the healthcare reform debate is Obama's Waterloo, whether or not race is a factor in opposition to the president's policies, whether or not mountaintop removal should continue, and whether or not we agree with each other is less important in the long run than the way we conduct the social discourse of  our politics. Should we stand up against the atmosphere of hate being perpetuated? Should we stand up against the lies? Should we call out for civility before someone gets hurt?

I know where I stand. How about the rest of you? Perhaps as the late Mary Travers sang so beautifully, "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind...."

Nancy Miller-Burk is interested in comments from lefties and righties, and everyone in between. She asks, though, that you follow rules of civility posted in her first blog. Thanks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ground Rules for Political Civility

Praise the Lord and pass the mashed potatoes. The 9/12 Rally in Washington came and went, with a crowd estimated in the thousands or millions depending on which media organization reported the news. Attendees included: the birthers, the teabaggers, the anti-abortionists, the right-wing militia, folks fearing grandma death panels, and haters of President Obama whose disdain probably stems most from a skin color atypical of white faces in the "Save Our America" gang.

Still, among the throngs were decent people who genuinely fear that government is overstepping its boundaries when it goes from simply protecting American rights to promoting equal rights. And they consider themselves to be self-made men (and women), who take personal responsibility for their destinies, obey the laws of the land, and pay their fair share of taxes, contribute to social causes. As one friend who attended the rally explained, many are tired of being "demonized ... for being successful."

To the last group of 9/12 rally attendees, I take off my hat for all their good works, and I would defend to my death their First and Second Amendment rights as long theirs do not infringe on the rights of others.  True conservatives always will be part of the greatness of American, and I do not want my right-of-center friends maligned. I do wish that someone besides Pat Buchanan and George Will, who unsettlingly have become the voices of sanity for the conservative movement, would call out extremist groups who are using the election of a biracial, left-of-center president to prey on the fears of law-abiding, God-fearing citizens.

By right-wing extremists, I refer to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeys, who would murder innocent civilians including children for "The Cause." Then there's the new and improved Ku Klux Klan whose history of murder and violence toward non-whites and non-Protestants is renowned but whose web page identifies its goals as promoting "free speech" and "cultural awareness." Of course, somewhere in the mix we can't forget the American Nazi Party, which expounds on its web page: "If you are tired of being blamed for all the world's problems - simply because you are White. If you are fed up with a government that is more concerned about everyone and everything on this planet - EXCEPT the well-being of the people who FOUNDED and BUILT America - the WHITE WORKING CLASS population, and are intelligent and clear-sighted enough to see REALITY when it stares you in the face - JOIN WITH US."

It is not surprising that the masses confuse Nazis, which are associated with murderer extraordinaire Adolf Hitler who slaughtered millions of Jews and others in the name of racial purification, with socialists. The confusion with socialism, which espouses government-run entities to equally distribute wealth to all classes and races, occurs by design because the American Nazi Party refers to itself as American National Socialists. However, socialism is on the opposite end of the political spectrum if for no other reason than the ideology is not for whites-only, and there are plenty of differences with communism as well.

Even if Fox Noise commentator Glenn Beck makes no distinction,  socialists are far cry from Russian communists associated with murderer extraordinaire Josef Stalin who slaughtered millions of Jews and others in the name of political purification. Hitler and Stalin share mainly the commonality of being murderous dictators, but their philosophies are like oil and vinegar. And yes, the Communist Party USA, the real Socialist Party USA, and the Socialist Workers Party still exist and are on the left. Yet those parties took big power hits with the fall of the USSR and, thus, are unlikely threats to the American way except in the minds of paranoid commentators and bloggers.

For the sake of my right-of-center friends, I'd like to clarify what the commentators don't. Nazism (capital letter lest we forget the Holocaust) and neo-Nazism, conservatism, and neoconservatism are on the right of the political continuum. Marxism (named after Karl, not Groucho), communism, socialism, liberalism and neoliberalism are left of center.  Am I saying that conservatives or neoconservatives are even close to their right-wing brethren in their ideology? Of course not. 

By the same token, the much-maligned liberals are just as far a cry from Marxists, socialists, and communists.  In fact, under the definitions of liberalism in the Merriam-Webster OnLine dictionary is: "2 a (often capitalized) a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity; b: a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties..."
Are liberals really Satan incarnate? Of course not. Unlike what the Becks, Limbaughs, Malkins, Coulters and Palins of the world will tell you, no one concerned about the issues of our day are necessarily stupid, uninformed, or un-Godly. Some are unnecessarily rude, stretch or annihilate the truth, and at least one recent vice presidential candidate, who will go unnamed, may come from another planet, but I digress....

The purpose of this new blog is to discuss current issues and differences in a civil and educated way -- if at all possible. To do so, let's set a few basic ground rules for future discussions and responses:
  • Keep a sense of humor.
  • No name-calling.
  • Before labeling, know what your labels mean. This rule is engraved in stone. I don't want a single responder who hasn't gone to the nearest dictionary -- for example, -- to look up 10 definitions: (1) Nazism (a capital letter lest we forget the Holcaust), (2) neo-Nazism, (3) Marxism, (4) communism,  (5) socialism, (6) capitalism, (7) liberalism, (8) conservatism, (9) neoconservatism, and (10) neoliberalism. 
  • Never use the terms Republicans and Democrats. Both are way too archaic for modern discourse. Moderate Republicans are rare birds these days. Liberal Republicans are extinct. The same holds for the somewhat broader Democratic Party, where the Blue Dogs are the liberal Republicans of yesteryear, the Yellow Dogs are now the moderates, and liberals/progressives are about to exit en masse to become non-party independents. (Kind of reminds me of the 1960s and early 1970s when it just wasn't cool to belong to a fraternity or sorority.) 
  • Liberalism nor conservatism is a four-letter word.
  • President Barack Obama's name is not listed under any definition of the 10 philosophical labels.  
  • Neither President Obama's nor President George W. Bush's name is listed under Satan or evil or the Axis of Evil.
  • Assume Capitalism remains and will remain alive and well in America for generations.
  • Civil war is unlikely and unnecessary -- if we settle down and stop listening to extremist commentators.  As Los Angeles celebrity Rodney King once said, "Can't we all just get along?"
  • Admit that America has some socialist programs that people appreciate: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. 
  • Health-care reform may have a socialist bent, but that doesn't mean it isn't necessary or that the government is on your doorstep. (In my humble opinion, that was a stronger possibility when the government was wiretapping!)
  • Just a teensy-weensy chance of a government takeover exists, and then only if terrorism strikes from the inside or the outside.
  • Helping each other is as American as God, mother, and apple pie.  It's not that we disagree on "the what." It's that we disagree on "the how."
If we stop the name-calling and throwing around labels we don't understand, we may be able to have civil social discourse on a variety of topics. And we Christians can truly follow what Jesus called the two greatest commandments of all: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" [and] "Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV).

That means everyone -- even liberals and conservatives!